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Gryphon Diablo 300

Reviewers' ChoiceFor over a decade, Simaudio itched to produce a state-of-the-art, cost-no-object, reference-grade power amplifier. Unfortunately, low market demand and high development costs forced them to postpone this and other such projects -- but they didn’t stop thinking about them. In fact, a little over a decade ago, Simaudio created what they call their skunkworks bin, where they keep their more technically creative yet economically impractical ideas. Kept under lock and key, this bin is opened only when the high-end market is robust enough to make the design and manufacture of such products cost effective.

And in the past three years high-end audio has seen a trend of exorbitantly priced electronics from an assortment of companies -- unknowns, startups, and established firms known to cater primarily to two-percenters. The risk of buying such products tends to be commensurate with their prices: before buying, customers must seriously consider whether the juice will be worth the financial squeeze. Simaudio believes that their reputation for providing high-quality products in all categories of price and function, and their comprehensive ten-year warranty, should allay any concerns about those products’ reliability.

Simaudio

Which is why Louis Lemire, Simaudio’s president; Thierry Dufour, VP of R&D; and Costa Koulisakis, VP of sales, unlocked the skunkworks bin and pulled out the rough ideas for the Moon 888 monoblock power amplifier.

Designing a monolith

In discussions with Koulisakis, I was told that the decision was almost a no-brainer, and that a mission statement soon followed that instructed the Simaudio engineering team to design and build the best power amplifier they could, using the highest levels of technology, creativity, and materials they could come up with. Cost was not a consideration. The result, the Moon 888, costs $118,888 USD per pair.

The conceptual design of the Moon 888 was finalized in early 2015. The production of parts followed almost immediately, and the first prototype was finished in December 2016. A few weeks later, in January, that prototype made its way to the 2017 Consumer Electronics Show. I was asked if I’d be interested in reviewing one of two pairs destined for auspicious audio shows and, eventually, reviewers. In January 2018, a pair of Moon 888s arrived at my doorstep cocooned in two of the biggest flight cases I’ve ever seen. The Moon 888s are colossal: each measures 22”W x 14”H x 27”D and weighs 230 pounds. Their appearance closely resembles that of my reference Simaudio Moon Evolution W-7M monoblocks, but the 888s dwarf the W-7Ms the way a Hummer H1 dwarfs a Jeep Compass.

To help me better understand the complexities and engineering nuances of the Moon 888, from chassis to circuit design, Koulisakis put me in touch with Simaudio’s product manager, Dominique Poupart. When I asked Poupart the reasons for the amp’s hugeness, he said that it boiled down to three things. 1) To eradicate thermal distortion, heatsinks were needed that were large enough to dissipate the heat produced by a monoblock that could produce 888W into 8 ohms. 2) The oversize components inside the Moon 888 need a lot of space. 3) Poupart wanted as much space as possible between sensitive components such as the transformers and gain stages.

I took note of some of the more obvious differences between the new amps and my W-7Ms -- such as the Moon 888’s 3/4”-thick faceplate and massive, triangular outrigger legs, all milled from solid, aircraft-grade aluminum. On the rear panel are two pairs of stunning Furutech FT-818 torque-regulated speaker binding posts, plated with rhodium and trimmed with carbon fiber; balanced (XLR) and unbalanced (RCA) inputs, with a toggle for switching between them; and another toggle switch that enables the Moon 888 to be direct-coupled to an AC or a DC preamplifier output without the use of a capacitor in the signal path to reject low-frequency noise.

Simaudio

At the bottom of the rear panel is a row of more connectors and switches. From left to right: an RS-232 port, 12V input and output triggers, Auto and Low Power standby toggles (these are unique to the Moon 888), a 20A IEC power-cord inlet, three protection indicators, a fuse bay, and the main Power rocker switch. I asked Poupart about the two standby modes: “Due to the amount of time it takes for 888’s massive heatsinks to fully warm up, a new automatic standby mode needed to be created. This Auto mode shuts down all circuitry in the amplifier except what is needed to keep the 888 at optimal operating temperature, plus, it self-activates after 20 minutes of silence. The Low Power mode is more of a typical standby mode in that it operates more eco-consciously, and shuts off almost all of the 888’s circuitry to reduce power consumption to roughly 5W.”

The Moon 888 is supported at each corner by a spring-damped, self-leveling foot. The fins of the one-piece heatsink that comprises each side panel are vertical rather than Simaudio’s horizontal norm -- Poupart told me that these sinks are so massive that Simaudio couldn’t mill them in-house. The Moon 888’s heatsinks are now not milled but cast off-site, then finished in Simaudio’s five-axis CNC machine, much like the engine block of an exotic car. Likewise the thick, heavy, subtly ventilated removable top plate. This plate’s size, depth, and integral ribbing make it too large and complex to be milled from a single billet. It’s over an inch thick; the ribs, cast in place and sprayed multiple times with an antiresonant coating, are 1/2” deep in some places. At the center of the top plate is Simaudio’s Moon logo, CNC-machined from aluminum.

I removed the top plate to reveal a meticulously organized gallery of the Moon 888’s largest, most striking components. In the front are two colossal, custom-designed, 1.5kVA power transformers, each potted in an epoxy-filled steel enclosure and fastidiously finished in chrome. Each transformer is sandwiched between a pair of 1/2”-thick aluminum plates, to increase the chassis’ rigidity and thus isolation from resonances, and to further shield the transformers from external noise and sensitive internal circuitry. Behind the transformers, peeking through a laser-cut subpanel, is a 12-pack of capacitors each the size of a beer can, and each specified as providing the same 27,000µF of energy storage as those used in the 880M and W-7M amps. The differences, Poupart explained, are in the quality and quantity of these caps’ internal materials. These huge capacitors, custom designed and built for the Moon 888 by Rubycon, provide more than twice the damping and insulating properties as those used in the 880M and W-7M, with dissipation rates significantly better than anything Simaudio has used before.

Beyond the transformers and capacitors there was little else to see with the Moon 888’s subpanel in place, so I put on my white gloves and carefully removed it. In doing so I noticed a few things: the precision with which this panel connects with the 888’s other panels is remarkable -- nowhere did I see a panel that wasn’t joined or aligned flawlessly. The subpanel was heavier than I’d expected -- later, Poupart told me that it’s made of stamped steel, not aluminum. He also said that the panel was designed to not only provide an extra step of shielding, to prevent noise from making its way in or out of the robust circuitry lying beneath, but also to provide an attractive appearance akin to that of the engine bay of a custom-built muscle car. This car guy understood precisely what he meant -- the capacitors look like independent intake plenums, the chromed transformers like a pair of polished exhaust manifolds.

Subpanel removed, the lay of the land got even more interesting, and I explored the Moon 888 from input to output: The input stage is positioned toward the far rear of the chassis, which puts as much distance as possible between it and the transformers. This input stage is unique to the Moon 888 -- it’s based on low-noise JFETs cleverly packed into a single device, to minimize noise and maximize thermal reciprocity. The transistors dedicated to supplying these JFETs with power are also uniquely implemented, deriving their current from multiple sources, as opposed to the solitary source found in the W-7M or 880M. Then come the gain and drive stages, also at the rear, and finally the output stages, separated by polarity (plus on the right, minus on the left), hard-mounted to a dedicated heatsink, and shrouded in a thick aluminum frame. Had I flipped the 888 over, removed its bottom plate, and looked at the underside of the capacitor bank, I’d have seen the rest of the circuitry for the power supply, startup, and DC protection. I saw little internal wiring, but what I did see was fully shielded, and thick enough to feel more like extrusions of solid copper than stranded wires.

Simaudio

Each output board contains 16 hand-selected, custom-made bipolar transistors and a series of bias gain transistors. All transistors are near the top and bottom extremities of each board, and each board is cleverly mounted inside its own dedicated heatsink -- each transistor presses directly against the heatsink, which has been milled flat to a tolerance of ±0.001” for maximal contact and thus maximal and most even dissipation of heat. Simaudio has also included its Lynx technology, which helps to eliminate feedback while supplementing the output transistors with near-instantaneous current. In the Moon 888, this is accomplished using secondary and tertiary banks of decoupling capacitors, the former directly behind the power supply, the latter directly on the output board itself.

All told, the Moon 888 is claimed to produce some astounding measurements, the most notable of which is that power output of 888W into 8 ohms. This number doubles, to 1776W, into 4 ohms. And if you can provide the 888s with a 220-240V supply of AC and a pair of 20A power cords (the uniquely terminated cable supplied with each Moon 888 is rated only to 15A), each amplifier can double that again into 2 ohms (3552W) and again into 1 ohm (7104W). Simaudio even specifies two of these outputs in horsepower: 1.2hp into 8 ohms, 2.4hp into 4 ohms. Most of us will never even come close to using so much power; in fact, some might not even top 20W, at which point the 888 switches from class-A to class-A/B operation. But if you do plan to push the limit, rest assured that the 888’s ample damping factor of 1915, overall energy reserves of over 400,000µF, and host of various DC and overload protection circuits, will have you covered. You can also take solace in the fact that Simaudio tests every component of the Moon 888 before and after assembly, and then again after a 24-hour burn-in period, to ensure the utmost in quality, durability, and performance.

Room and system

Fortunately, my treated 22’L x 12’W media room is on the ground floor, only steps from my garage -- with a friend’s help, I was able to roll the Moon 888s into my room and position them. I used twin pairs of Clarus Crimson balanced interconnect and speaker cables to link them to my reference Moon Evolution W-7M monoblocks and Moon Evolution P8 preamplifier, and a pair of Tidal Audio’s Piano G2 loudspeakers (recently reviewed). This allowed me to perform direct A/B comparisons simply by swapping cables at the speakers.

The rest of the review system comprised a PS Audio DirectStream DAC, a Torus AVR20 power conditioner, and my Dell XPS Ultrabook running JRiver Media Center 20, all connected using Clarus Crimson digital links, power cords, and balanced interconnects. To accompany the Moon 888s, Simaudio later provided a full suite of Moon gear, including their 780D streaming DAC, 850P preamplifier, and 820S power supply, respectively reviewed in 2016 by me, Jeff Fritz, and Doug Schneider. I did most of my listening and comparisons using my reference gear, but below I also touch on what I heard when I used the newer Moon models supplied by Simaudio.

Nirvana

As the Moon 888 is fundamentally similar in design to Simaudio’s Moon Evolution W-7M ($25,000/pair, discontinued) and Moon 880 ($45,000/pair), I dreaded the possibility of having to nitpick the most minute of sonic minutiae to differentiate the Moon 888 from its brethren. Luckily, the difference was obvious, and particularly after the 888s had logged just over a month’s worth of break-in. Immediately after the amps had passed the recommended 300 hours of burn-in, I spent almost three solid days listening, making comparisons, and getting lost in my favorite music. I emerged from those three days a little paler, but having concluded that the Moon 888’s sound was velvety smooth, airy, and dynamically effortless -- a sound that relentlessly communicated undertones of balance, refinement, and unrestricted power.

Simaudio

I had listened to each selection first through my W-7Ms, then the 888s. The W-7Ms communicated “I’ll Be Your Lover, Too,” from Van Morrison’s His Band and the Street Choir (24-bit/192kHz FLAC, Warner Bros.), with dexterity, compelling dynamics, and an alluring sense of space. The combination of these qualities consistently pulled me into the music, and reaffirmed my conviction that the W-7Ms are damn fine amplifiers. When I switched to the Moon 888s, each of these attributes was not only undiminished, there was now so much more going on. For example, Morrison’s voice was at center stage, as expected, but so organically that I swear I got an impression of his mood. The sound of the recording venue, too, had changed -- through the W-7Ms, the soundstage sounded big, with ample space between Morrison and the members of His Band. Through the Moon 888s, the distances between objects onstage remained, but there was now a sense of definition implied to each axis of the environment that enabled me to better identify the boundaries of the stage. This drew me into the music -- I felt I was in that room, sitting in front of Morrison, rather than sitting in my own listening room. Details I previously hadn’t been able to nail down -- such as the position of Dahaud Elias Shaar (aka David Shaw)’s drums relative to Morrison -- were now obvious rather than guesswork. Shaar’s drumstrokes were more pronounced without sounding bigger, and I could better hear the texture of stick on skin of each stroke -- a detail somewhat lost through the W-7Ms. I was also better able to appreciate how hard John Platania was plucking each string of his acoustic guitar -- not only were transients sharper and decays longer, I could also hear more resin in its strings.

Despite besting my W-7Ms in terms of speed, dynamics, and transparency, there was an even more engaging aspect of the Moon 888, one that I believe defined this amplifier’s sound, and was consistently present regardless of genre, volume, or resolution of recording material: its refinement. The Moon 888s struck a darn near perfect balance of pace, rhythm, timing, texture, tonal color, micro- and macrodynamics, and soundstage size, and did so with absolute effortlessness. I have to push the W-7Ms really hard before they begin to show a hint of coolness in their character, but when that happens, with some speakers, the sound can become slightly aggressive or shouty. This never happened with the Moon 888s. Their overall tonal color began a degree warmer than the W-7Ms and stayed there. Textures were drawn more smoothly, yet with more definition, and were never exaggerated -- music flowed through the Tidal Piano G2s more fluidly, without ever sounding liquidized.

Simaudio

In “Oh, What a World,” from Kacey Musgraves’s Golden Hour (24/96 MQA, MCA/Tidal), her voice sounded less porous and more organic than I’m used to, appearing precisely between the Piano G2s with diamond-cut focus. I also appreciated how precise instrumental and vocal decays were etched on and around the stage throughout this track, which can sound a bit blurred through other amplifiers. Nor was the acute resolution with which the layers of this music were reproduced limited to this track -- the 888s consistently and precisely reproduced such instrumental and vocal nuances, regardless of material -- again and again, the cumulative effect was immersive and realistic reproduction of the recordings. The Moon 888s did this better than any other amplifier(s) I’ve heard.

One of the many tracks I got lost in was “Tin Pan Alley,” from The Essential Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble (16/44.1 FLAC, Epic/Legacy). Like the others, it laid bare just how fast and impactful the 888s could sound -- even more so than the W-7Ms. Each pluck of Vaughan’s electric guitar was absolutely thrilling; I got a distinct sense of the attitude behind his playing, and each note was drawn with a rich, fluid, almost golden hue. Again, no matter how loudly I played this track, Vaughan’s notes never got close to sounding screechy or abrasive; they simply maintained their tonal color, control, and body with utmost finesse. Chris Layton’s drums were awesome -- his cymbal taps were downright genteel, yet with each one I could hear the golden shimmer of the brass balanced against the fast decay, each time with the same resolution and delicacy I could hear in Vaughan’s guitar notes. When Layton laid into the skins in unison with Vaughan’s guitar, the entire front of my room was filled with wonderfully scaled yet accurately cast images that were downright arresting in their attack.

When I switched the speaker cables back to my Moon W-7Ms, I was far from disappointed -- at just over half the power output of the Moon 888s, the W-7Ms provided huge dynamic swings, deep and articulate bass, pinpoint images, and a sense of atmosphere that few other amplifiers in their price range can compete with. But the Moon 888s were different animals playing on a different level. Almost every aspect of “Tin Pan Alley” was elevated yet balanced by a luxurious sense of refinement, with one exception: the bass. This surprised me. Then I thought of my room size, and the fact that I wasn’t driving a pair of large, inefficient, full-range speakers, and suddenly the near-identical bass performance of the Tidal Piano G2s driven by both pairs of monoblocks began to make sense. What didn’t make sense was that, at low volumes, the W-7Ms seemed to produce a bit more bass presence.

Simaudio

In an attempt to hear something more from the Moon 888s, I replaced my PS Audio DAC and Moon Evolution P8 preamp with the flagship gear that Simaudio had sent along with the Moon 888s, and listened again. The differences were subtle: the noise floor was a bit quieter, and thus dynamics and micro-level details were a bit easier to appreciate, but I heard no appreciable change in bass performance.

Wrapping up . . . sadly

To say that I enjoyed my time with Simaudio’s statement Moon 888 monoblock amplifiers would be a huge understatement. I absolutely loved them. Their build quality is matched only by their qualities of visual and circuit design, all of which are exquisite. The ergonomics of their removable top panels, self-leveling feet, those marvelous torque-limiting binding posts, and Simaudio’s ten-year warranty are boons. Their sound quality is beyond anything else I have heard.

Is a pair of Moon 888s worth $118,888? Only your bank account and conscience can tell you. What I can tell you is that my last few months of listening have turned up a new musical masterpiece. It’s called the Simaudio Moon 888.

. . . Aron Garrecht
arong@soundstagenetwork.com

Associated Equipment

  • Speakers -- Tidal Audio Piano G2
  • Subwoofers -- JL Audio Fathom f112 (2)
  • Amplifiers -- Parasound Halo A 51 (five-channel), Simaudio Moon Evolution W-7M (monoblocks)
  • Preamplifiers -- Anthem AVM 60, Simaudio Moon Evolution P-8 and 850P
  • Sources -- Oppo Digital BDP-103 universal BD player, Dell E7440 Ultrabook laptop computer running Windows 10, JRiver Media Center 20
  • Digital-to-analog converter -- PS Audio DirectStream, Simaudio Moon Evolution 780D with 820S power supply
  • Cables -- Clarus Crimson S/PDIF, USB, balanced interconnects, speaker cables, power cords
  • Power conditioner -- Torus AVR20

Simaudio Moon 888 Mono Amplifiers
Price: $118,888 USD per pair.
Warranty: Ten years parts and labor (with registration).

Simaudio Ltd.
1345 Newton Road
Boucherville, Quebec J4B 5H2
Canada
Phone: (450) 449-2212

Website: www.simaudio.com